Marblehead to Halifax or bust

Published on January 29, 2011
The Nomad in Boston. — Submitted Photo

By Rick Barnes

Special to The Telegram

It is the third Monday of January, dubbed by some to be “Blue Monday” — the most depressing day of the year.

Blue Monday is actually a marketing strategy cooked up by a U.K. travel agency a few years ago to convince us that a holiday in the sun will make us feel better.

But the idea of post-holiday doldrums didn’t come out of a vacuum.

The beginning of the third work week of the new year in the northern hemisphere is a time when daylight is short, money is short and — in the chilly aftermath of holiday revelling — joy can be in short supply, too.

But David Mitchell is not at all blue. Actually, Mitchell’s face is kind of purple as it contorts with the effort of his physical exertion.

We’re at the Goodlife Fitness gym in the east end of St. John’s, and among the dozens of lifting, stretching and pushing patrons is the grunting Mitchell — back from his first potato chip-free weekend of 2011, for Week 4 of his exercise routine.

“This is a hard day. Monday is a hard day. … You’re two days away from it. You haven’t done anything in two days. … You probably consume things on a weekend that you shouldn’t have consumed,” gasps Mitchell, “ I could never, personally, stay disciplined enough. You’ve got to have someone holding your feet to the fire every second day.”

Although Mitchell, a successful mid-career engineer, is used to discipline, regular physical exercise doesn’t come easy. The person charged with holding Mitchell’s feet to the metaphorical fire of a six-month fitness regime is his trainer, Blair Doyle.

“The people who do the best, (are the ones who) want it most. The trainer can help, but if you don’t want it, it’s not going to happen,” says Doyle, “(Mitchell) wants it so bad he can taste it. He’d knock you over for it, and that’s why he is going to do well.”

The big motivator propelling the 44-year-old Mitchell towards fitness awaits him at Tern Harbour Marina — Boston’s “premier boat club.”

Mitchell, a member of the Royal Newfoundland Yacht Club, has been sailing since the mid-1990s. As he developed his sailing skills and his confidence grew, his sailboats have been getting longer, too. This is a common condition of sailors known as “two foot-itis” — the recurring desire to have a boat two feet longer than the one currently pitching under that sailor’s feet.

Mitchell’s latest acquisition, Nomad, three times two feet longer than his old boat, is an impressive craft known as a Lacoste, named for the clothing billionaire who financed its production, Bernard Lacoste.

The Lacoste, designed by naval architecture company Sparkman and Stephens, whose designs have won most international yacht races, such as the America’s Cup, was built in La Rochelle, France, and the ocean sailing boat is one of only 11 of its kind in the world.

The Nomad, brought to the east coast of the United States in the late ’80s, was sold to a Boston stockbroker, Kent Damon, the father of Matthew Paige Damon — better known as Matt Damon, actor, screenwriter and Hollywood hunk. The name Nomad is the family name “Damon” spelled backwards.

Mitchell has already taken possession of his 42-foot dreamboat, and with the deal done, he could have it shipped to its new berth at RNYC in Long Pond.

But Mitchell, who describes himself as “being slightly competitive by nature” gradually came to believe the only way to deliver such a racing yacht would be to race it home.

“I began thinking about the possibility of doing the Marblehead to Halifax Race. Marblehead is only 20 nautical miles from Tern Harbour Marina where the boat is stored inside for the winter at Custom Fiberglass Inc., having items repaired, replaced, checked and upgraded. It’s the chance of a lifetime. … I’ve never done anything like this before,” says Mitchell.

Even though Mitchell, who was born into a seafaring family and grew up 100 feet from the water line in Lewin’s Cove on the Burin Peninsula, has 15 years of sailing experience, the 363-nautical-mile Marblehead-to-Halifax ocean yacht race is an enormous challenge.

“Sure, I managed to sail my boat from RNYC to St. John’s or Trinity, but most of my boating days consist of bobbing up and down somewhere between Kelly’s Island and Brigus.”

In order for Mitchell, who has never raced on the open ocean, to qualify for the Marblehead to Halifax race, he had to hire an experienced skipper and crew for his boat.

Boston area skipper David Sherman, two-time winner of a Marion-to-Bermuda race, will skipper the Nomad.

Mitchell will be a member of the crew working with a team of experienced sailors he rounded up from Massachusetts Bay and Conception Bay.

But Mitchell, totally confident in his new boat and crew, had concerns about his own fitness for the gruelling four-day ocean race.

“My age and waistline happens to be the same number, this year. Convenient for buying pants, but not so convenient for jumping around the foredeck of a 42-foot sailboat wrestling 800 square feet of sail fabric to the pitching deck in the dark of night somewhere between Marblehead and Cape Sable,” says Mitchell. “The first 20 years of my life were focused on monetary dividends, not health … not focused on being able to be healthy enough in the future to continue doing these things.”

 Doyle says Mitchell’s experience is all too common and he advises people like Mitchell to be patient.

“It took you years to get to where you are. You can’t undo it in a couple of months. You’ve got to be willing to accept the fact that even though you won’t see results right away, it will happen, and when they do happen, that’s worth all the sacrifice.”

To honour Nomad’s Hollywood connection, Mitchell has called his upcoming sailing adventure “Nomad — Bourne Again!” — linking Nomad to The Bourne Trilogy, a popular series of action flicks that starred Matt Damon.

While Doyle agrees motivation is important, he maintains that when embarking on a fitness regime, a successful outcome is not determined by the size of the prize — it is built on small rewards earned along the way.

“Somebody who can see that it is easier getting in and out of the car, can tell if it’s easier running up over the steps, can notice the little things … will go further than somebody who can only see the big picture. You’ve got to be motivated by the little stuff. You’ve got to be thankful for the little things.”

Doyle adds that, “People put themselves last in everything, especially their health. We care about material things more than we do about ourselves.”

Mitchell, at least for now, echoes his trainer’s philosophy.

“The next couple of years are going to be about me, not about RRSPs, but RHSD — Really Help Save Dave.”